Hold the line on housing

Published 7:51 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Last week, City Council approved, by a vote of 6-2, a housing development that planners had recommended denial for — not once, not twice, but three times.

The proposed Hallstead Reserve development off Pruden Boulevard, near the bypass, earned a recommendation of denial from city staff, then a 6-2 recommendation of denial from the Planning Commission, then — after council members deferred action and the developer tinkered with its proffers — another recommendation of denial from city staff.

The development would eventually produce an eye-popping number of residential units — 414, to be exact. It’s a lot for what still feels like a semi-rural area, even though it is designated as part of the Central Growth Area in the city’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan.

Email newsletter signup

However, according to what the developer has proffered, more than 36 percent of those units would be unlikely to have schoolchildren living in them. Of the 312 apartments, 100 would be one-bedroom units. Of the 102 four-plex units, 51 would be restricted to individuals age 55 and older.

Some City Council members rightly pointed out that the development still stands to put Elephant’s Fork Elementary School way over its capacity. Some said they would prefer to await an eagerly anticipated study on school facilities needs, school attendance zones and student generation rates before making any more decisions based on what could be flawed rate calculations. And they insisted the land is better for commercial opportunity.

But some other City Council members felt the developer had bent over backward to try to meet the city’s concerns. They noted the development will take several years to be fully built out. They noted there has been no interest in developing the property commercially, which was its original zoning.

While everything the six-member majority said is true, we still have to agree with Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett and Councilman Tim Johnson.

Over the years, city leaders have approved too much new housing and not enough public facilities and services to go with them. Schools are overcrowded in some areas but underutilized in others, with no citywide rezoning to help fix the problem (but that’s on the School Board). Roads haven’t grown quickly enough with the amount of traffic that they serve. The police department is seriously overworked and understaffed.

And yet, City Council keeps approving more housing.

It is our opinion that City Council should hold the line on approving more housing, especially that for which the city’s own planning staff and the council-appointed Planning Commission recommend denial, until the recommendations of the study on school facilities, attendance zones and student generation rates are able to be implemented.